November 22, 2017

The Sad, Sad Truth and the Dirty Low Down

August 31, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

When the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convened for its annual convention in Manhattan at the end of June, the New York Times put it front-and-center on the sports page. Sounds like a good thing, but the article featured a photograph of several graying seniors sitting in the first row of a plenary session and asked the question whether baseball fans are a fading fashion. Many SABR members know the issue all too well and like baseball itself–MLB, Inc., the need to grow the game among the young is a prime directive.

But the issue remains. Is baseball a game whose rhythms and subtleties are geared to a different time?

Sitting in the stands yesterday and watching Stephen Strasburg craft a fine complete game shutout at Nationals Park, the question was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Baseball was king on a beautiful afternoon. On the mound stood the one player more responsible for the re-birth of baseball in Washington, DC than anyone in many ways. When Strasburg agreed to sign with Washington after the 2009 amateur draft, he became the future of the franchise and his official signing took place on the field at Nationals Park as a symbol of the rebirth he personified. Rebirth cannot happen in a vacuum however. It takes a village, as they say.

Even at the game it was inescapable as we looked around us at the 25,000 paying fans and had to wonder why there were so few to watch such a great team on a gorgeous sunny afternoon where the temperature hardly topped 80 degrees?

One reason was readily apparent the next morning when coverage of the game on the Washington Post sports page was second banana to soccer and football. As someone who has spent no small amount of time in front of microfiche readers at the Library of Congress pouring over newspapers from every decade of the 20th century and a few from the 19th, baseball was ALWAYS the lead item during the summer months, no questions asked. Despite a Washington Senators team that had not won anything of note for thirty years, it was still king of the Washington Post sports page with articles by George Minot and William Gildea blaring from above the fold with large photographs to boot.

Let’s go back to the game for a moment and to Stephen Strasburg as corner stone for baseball in DC. The game was a masterpiece and a memorable one. Twenty or thirty years from now if you ask him if he remembers August 30th 2017, Strasburg will remember the day with clarity. There was his booming home run to center field in the bottom of the fifth inning. He will certainly remember that, but also he will easily recall the fine gem of a pitching performance. Surely any sports editor trying to position articles could have made much of the home run, the rare complete game and the shutout. One writer tried admirably. Chelsea Janes fine article was pitch perfect and deserved better

But the only mention above the fold about the Nationals was Tom Boswell’s column about Strasburg’s beard. Frankly, Chelsea should be talking to Eleanor Holmes Norton about who might handle a lawsuit, because she is a better writer than the old white dudes and her coverage consistently deserves more prominent display than addled speculation about whether Giancarlo Stanton might fit in Washington. Unfortunately for Chelsea Janes, the foregone conclusion of baseball’s demise is a pulling guard and she and others are left to scramble in its wake.

Straz deserved better. He never wavered, pitching artfully around a lead-off triple to lead off the fifth inning when the score was still knotted at 0-0. Two strikeouts and a flight ball later, he was leading off the bottom of the inning when he homered. What an inning! What a pitcher! It was only his 11th win against four defeats, but he remains one of the best pitchers in the game, though pitching in Washington may make that less obvious than it should be.

In its efforts to grow the game in DC, the front office is always planting seeds, even if old ones. Yesterday was “Seniors Stroll the Bases” day in Washington and as a member of the over-65 set, my friend and longtime baseball companion Reverend Ed Winkler had purchased us the requisite tickets to amble about on the playing field at Nationals Park. As seniors we are well-versed in following directions and queued during the ninth inning outside the stadium waiting for the game to end and our chance to photograph one another sliding into home plate like Cobb used to do it.

The game was piped over a speaker above us and so as Strasburg pitched the ninth, all 200 plus seniors hung on every pitch. It was like the old days when we all listened to the game on the radio more often than not. We thrilled to each strike, hoping that Strasburg could pull it off. We smiled and pumped fists for each out, and then when the game was over a spontaneous cheer erupted from the gathered graying throng. There was a 92-year old woman in the group just ahead of us and she was smiling broadly, her thin fingers clasped together tightly and she jerked them back in salute as the final out was posted.

We were then led into an area just outside the bullpen where we were given instructions and, bless their little pea-picking hearts, we were given backpacks from a senior citizens retirement home that promised the best in “memory care.” Almost like a hot dog on a bun with all the fixings, nothing says loving like shoving the old folks towards the retirement home.

But I digress. We filed through the bullpen with our backpacks and onto the field. The sun was setting in the west over the capitol and everyone was beaming. We high-fived with the racing presidents and were welcomed to home plate by Teddy Roosevelt, everyone’s favorite. We took a photo with Teddy and then our day of fun was over. We were left with two rather nice memories, one of a Strasburg gem that promises much for the post-season, and a nice chance to walk the bases beneath an autumn sky.

Perhaps baseball is not meant for the younger generation and their video game mentality. Their appetite may be for blood sport, which is far too easy to find in our culture. But if baseball is a historic footnote, then there couldn’t be a finer one for our generation to relish. Subtle, thought-provoking and incredibly difficult to do, it is one of the best sports ventures mankind has imagined and a fine legacy of which we can be proud. Oh yeah, and there were some hellishly good players too, like one named Stephen Strasburg who played for a little known team in Washington, DC back in the day. Have I told you that one before sonny boy?

Thanks to Boz Scaggs for the title.

 

 

Comments

One Response to “The Sad, Sad Truth and the Dirty Low Down”
  1. Bob Wirz says:

    Ted…So happy I am not the only one with some of these thoughts. Keep the faith. Baseball will continue, but it will take you and me and our like-minded friends to see that it remains a top-of-the-fold subject. I hope my recent book, “The Passion of Baseball”, is doing a little bit to help.

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